Were Your Google Authorship Efforts All For Nothing?

Chris CrumSearch

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Google introduced authorship support over three years ago, leading webmasters and anyone concerned with SEO to jump through a new set of hoops to make sure their faces were visible in Google search results, and hopefully even get better rankings and overall visibility in the long run. Now, Google has decided to pull the plug on the whole thing.

Do you feel that authorship was a waste of time? Are you glad to see it go? Is Google making the wrong move? Share your thoughts in the comments.

To be fair, Google called its authorship efforts experimental in the first place, but for quite a while, it looked like it would play more and more of a role in how Google treated search results, and more specifically, the people providing the content that populates them. Of course Google seems to be relying much less on people (at least directly) for search result delivery these days, favoring on-page "answers" over links to other sites.

Google never came right out and said it would use authorship as a ranking signal to my recollection, but it did go out of its way to really encourage people to take advantage, recording multiple videos on various ways to implement authorship markup on your website. As time went on, they added more ways to implement it, sending a signal that doing so would be in your best interest.

They also added features, such as display of comments, circle counts, etc. They added authorship click and impression data to Webmaster Tools. They dropped the author search operator in Google News in favor of authorship. They added authorship to Google+ Sign-In less than a year ago. It seemed that Google was only valuing authorship more as time went on.

A year ago, Google's Maile Ohye said, "Authorship annotation is useful to searchers because it signals that a page conveys a real person’s perspective or analysis on a topic." Emphasis added.

Also last summer, Google's Matt Cutts said, "I’m pretty excited about the ideas behind rel=’author’. Basically, if you can move from an anonymous web to a web where you have some notion of identity and maybe even reputation of individual authors, then webspam, you kind of get a lot of benefits for free. It’s harder for the spammers to hide over here in some anonymous corner.”

“Now, I continue to support anonymous speech and anonymity, but at the same time, if Danny Sullivan writes something on a forum or something like that I’d like to know about that, even if the forum itself doesn’t have that much PageRank or something along those lines,” he added. “It’s definitely the case that it was a lot of fun to see the initial launch of rel=’author’. I think we probably will take another look at what else do we need to do to turn the crank and iterate and improve how we handle rel=’author’. Are there other ways that we can use that signal?”

Before that, he had indicated that authorship could become more of a signal in the future, dubbing it a "long term trend."

At some point, something changed. Google started making reductions to how it used authorship rather than adding to it. Last fall, Cutts announced that Google would be reducing the amount of authorship results it showed by about 15%, saying that the move would improve quality.

In June, Google announced it was doing away with authors' profile photos and circle counts in authorship results, indicating that doing so would lend to a "better mobile experience and a more consistent design across devices."

But even then, results would still show a byline and contain a link to the author's Google+ profile.

Last week came the death blow. Google's John Mueller announced that the company had made "the difficult decision" to stop showing authorship in search results, saying that the information wasn't as useful to users as it had hoped, and that it could "even distract from those results". Emphasis added.

You know, because knowing more about a result - like who wrote it - is less useful.

According to Mueller, removing authorship "generally" doesn't seem to reduce traffic to sites, though you have to wonder if that's the case for more well-known authors who stand to be affected by this the most. Mueller wrote:

Going forward, we're strongly committed to continuing and expanding our support of structured markup (such as schema.org). This markup helps all search engines better understand the content and context of pages on the web, and we'll continue to use it to show rich snippets in search results.

It’s also worth mentioning that Search users will still see Google+ posts from friends and pages when they’re relevant to the query — both in the main results, and on the right-hand side. Today’s authorship change doesn’t impact these social features.

As Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan explains, just because authorship is now dead, that doesn't mean "author rank" is.

Cutts said earlier this year that Google uses author rank in "some ways," including in the In-Depth Articles section. Google’s Amit Singhal has also suggested that the signal could come into play more in the future in terms of regular organic search results.

Cutts said this late last year: “We are trying to figure out who are the authorities in the individual little topic areas and then how do we make sure those sites show up, for medical, or shopping or travel or any one of thousands of other topics. That is to be done algorithmically not by humans … So page rank is sort of this global importance. The New York times is important so if they link to you then you must also be important. But you can start to drill down in individual topic areas and say okay if Jeff Jarvis (Prof of journalism) links to me he is an expert in journalism and so therefore I might be a little bit more relevant in the journalistic field. We’re trying to measure those kinds of topics. Because you know you really want to listen to the experts in each area if you can.”

Sullivan also points to an excerpt from Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt's 2013 book The New Digital Age, which says: "Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance."

The point to all of this is that even though so-called "authorship" is dead, it still matters to Google who you are, and that could have a much bigger impact on your visibility in the search engine than authorship itself ever did.

But still, what a big waste of time, right? And how did Google go from thinking authorship information was so useful a year ago to finding it useless now?

What do you think? Should Google have killed authorship? Do you believe the reasoning the company gave? Let us know in the comments.

Image via Google+

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.